During the weekend of April 15 and 16, 2023, the next races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the World Endurance Championship took place. Both, in the 100-minute-long IMSA race in Long Beach and the six-hour-long WEC endurance race in Portimão, the Porsche Penske Motorsport proved their mettle.
The race in Long Beach was the third of the season, while the red lights flashed out for the second time of the WEC in Portimão. After the teams proved in Sebring, that they and the Porsche 963 have what it takes to keep up with the best, the goal for Long Beach and Portimão was obvious: reach the podium. The will to win was clear to see in both race series. Notable: the challenges experienced by both teams in Sebring were clearly countered since then.
The result of the teams' hard work was clear to see in Long Beach and Portimão.
Momentum in Long Beach.
The start of the international race weekend was the IMSA street track in Long Beach on Saturday, April 15. Here, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team started from positions six and eight of their class – the #6 with Nick Tandy and #7 with Felipe Nasr. Out of the customer racing teams, the Porsche 911 GT3 R belonging to Pfaff Motorsports and steered by Patrick Pilet lined up as 12th vehicle in the grid.
Within the first minutes of the race and barely after the green flag was swung, the first incident occured in the first curve. Vehicles and their small parts spread across the street track, but seconds before the yellow flag for a full course yellow is shown, Nick Tandy in the Porsche 963 #6 manages to pass through the field and forward into second spot – directly behind the Acura #10 and one of the BMWs. As the track is cleared again, Tandy is pursuing two strategies: he has to defend his second position toward the back, while staying in close quarters with the leading vehicle. A nerve-wracking situation that demands excellent track overview and driving skills. Particularly in races involving multipe vehicle classes, the slower vehicles of other categories are utilized strategically to slow down opponents.
Tandy's strategy proves effective within the next 30 minutes: He manages to build up some distance to the BMW #25 behind him. But there was no time for relaxation, as he had to play catch-up with the Acura #10 ahead.
The pit stops of the vehicle categories switch up the grid: One after the other, all three leading vehicles opt for a stop, giving Felipe Nasr the chance to move up to second spot. In the meantime, the #6 switches out drivers and Nick Tandy clears the cockpit for team colleague Mathieu Jaminet.
The standard stop of the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team at first seems unspectacular, but it reveals the team strategy. Unlike the competition, the team opts out of a tire change and therefore saves precious time in the box.
We didn’t have the fastest car. So, we thought through all possible strategies and agreed not to change the tyres.
The strategy proved to be effective: The Porsche 963 #6 manages to exit the box before the initially leading Acura #10 does and is perfectly positioned to return to the top three. At that point, the sister car with the number seven entered the pit and Nasr switched out with the Australian Matt Campbell. During this change, Jaminet in the #6 conquers the third spot once more and the Porsche #7 exited the box the very moment the sister car passed. Allowing the team to attain the spots two and three in the final 60 minutes.
For Jaminet, the position with his team colleague at his back is ideal. While Matt Campbell defends his position against the following Whelen Cadillac with the number 31, Jaminet can fully focus on expand on his advantage. The vehicle in front of him yet to proceed to the pit and the unavoidable happens: With just 50 minutes of race time left, the leading car decides to enter the pit, the Porsche #6 moves up to first spot and number seven follows onto second. Jaminet is has the ideal conditions to push his advantage.
Meanwhile in the GTD Pro class, an equally intense battle has broken out. Klaus Bachler is now in the Porsche 911 GT3 R of Pfaff Motorsports and is deeply entrenched in a duel with the #3 belonging to Corvette Racing. Bachler's goal for now was to maintain his second spot within the class.
The strategic decision to not change the tires is a curse and blessing for the Porsche 963 vehicles. While Jaminet in the #6 still continues as leader of his class, the Cadillac #31 belonging to Whelen manages to catch up to Matt Campbel in the hairpin curve after a long duel. The wear on the material on the street track throughout the ongoing duel was too much for the Michelin tires. But Matt Campbell refuses to back down without a fight: he hunts down the Cadillac, while it goes on to chase the Porsche 963 #6.
But Mathieu Jaminet has his eye on the competition and constantly places GTD vehicles strategically between himself and his pursuer, slowing them down in the curves. Over and over again, he places himself in front of the vehicles of the other class during the short straights of the track, and therefore forces his opponent to spend the next curve behind a slower car. Though these are required to let GTP vehicles pass, this is not possible everywhere.
Finally, the Cadillac abandons its pursuit and enters the pit to change its tires. This places the Porsche #7 back in second spot and the #6 still in first – with a remaining race time of about 30 minutes.
The competition did not let up, however. The BMW #25 hones in on the Porsche 963 of Campbell and what follows is an intense battle. The BMW is fierce and attempts to distract Matt Campbell moments before the next turn, hoping to provoke him into committing a mistake. But the Australian remains calm and leaves no gaps. In the end, it is the fierceness of the BMW that causes its undoing: In a 90-degree curve, he attempts to pass Matt Campbell on the inside of a turn, while Campbell is slowed down by a GTD vehicle. But the BMW loses control, overshoots the curve and therefore loses multiple spots in the grid.
Still, the final 20 minutes of the race remain tense for Matt Campbell in the #7, as the #10 is back to hounding him. Once more, an intense duel breaks out with the Porsche 963 #7 in the thick of it, and Matt Campbell proves his driving skills. Just as it was with the BMW, the battle is tough and 17 minutes before the race is bound to end, the #10 brushes the rear of the Porsche 963 #7 after an attempted trickery. The stabilization of the spoiler of the 963 loosens and flies off onto the track, the left taillight goes out. But it is the missing part of his spoiler that challenges Matt Campbell. Though he managed to maintain his position during the passing maneuver of the #10, but he is visibly fighting against the odds after accelerating out of the turns of the Long Beach race track. The aerodynamics of the Porsche 963 #7 are limited, but the Australian continues to plough on.
With just ten remaining minutes, the vehicles on second (Porsche #7), third (Acura #10), and fourth (BMW #25) spot are mere milliseconds apart. That, combined with the tire wear and the reduced aerodynamics, is the downfall of Matt Campbell: The Acura prepares to attack from the inside, while the BMW attempts a pass from the outside. The Porsche 963 #7 is forced to fall back onto fourth position.
Despite the little remaining race time, the Acura manages to catch up to the Porsche #6 and becomes a threat to Mathieu Jaminet. Both vehicles are separated by less than a second and during the penultimate lap, the #10 goes for the attack. In turn six, the Acura goes for the inside line, but his speed is too high: he overshoots the turn and hits the tire wall along the track, while Jaminet continues on his course.
With a full course yellow, the race comes to an end. Mathieu Jaminet scores the first spot of the podium with the #6 and Matt Campbell comes in third. In the GTD Pro class, Klaus Bachler scores the third spot for Pfaff Motorsports.
The first success with the Porsche 963 – we couldn’t have dreamed of a better result.
Podium spot in Portimão.
On Sunday in Portimão, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team started from places five (#6) and seven (#5) of the World Endurance Championship. Compared to Long Beach, the start in Portugal is tame: without accidents or contact, the six-hour-race begins and Laurens Vanthoor immediately comes in on the fourth spot of the grid, placing him right between two Ferrari hypercar vehicles. Directly in the first curve, they work together and he falls back onto fifth spot.
Particularly throughout the beginning phase of the race, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team focused more on maintaining their position and improve upon them when the opportunity was right. This led to a rather calm race in the hypercar class – on the other hand, in the GTE Am class, a six-hour-long competition broke out: The Iron Dames in the pink Porsche 911 RSR with the number 85 started from second spot and immediately after found themselves on third spot behind the Corvette #33. Within the first 30 minutes, Sarah Bovy attempted to build up the pressure on the Corvette. Finally, shortly before the first hour of the race has passed, she manages to pass in the last turn and regains her second spot.
As the first hour of the race concludes, the hypercar vehicles begin to enter the pit. Meanwhile, Sarah Bovy of the Iron Dames caught up to the Ferrari #21 in first spot of the GTE Am class and is clearly aiming to pass the competition. The Porsche #6 returns from the pit on ninth spot, marking the moment for the 963 #5 to enter pitlane. As they had in the IMSA, the team decides not to change their tires and therefore saves precious seconds. For the Porsche 963 #6, this means a return to the race on third spot.
Throughout the following hour, the Porsche #6 fluctuates between attack and defense against two familiar opponents: When factory driver Laurens Vanthoor isn't countering the Ferrari #50, he is working hard on reducing the distance to the leading Toyota #7. During this time, the Iron Dames experience a similar situation: Sarah Bovy is in constant battle with Cadillac and sometimes Ferrari, her position circling between spots two and three.
As the second hour of the race begins, the hypercar vehicles enter the pit once more. This time, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team opts to switch tires and drivers – in the #5, Frédéric Makowiecki steps behind the wheel, while Kévin Estre switches into the #6. Both vehicles return to almost the same spots as before: number five on seventh spot. #6 on fourth behind the Ferrari #51. An entire hour later, the Iron Dames decide to switch drivers. Rahel Frey steps up to steer the Porsche 911 RSR with the number 85, and maintains the same focus as her team colleague Sarah Bovy. After two and a half hours, she pushes onward onto first spot of the GTE Am class.
Shortly after, Estre goes for the attack and catches up to the Ferrari #51 on third spot. Methodically, he works his way forward to his opponent and elegantly pulls past on the inside curve – therefore placing the Porsche 963 #6 in third position. Even as the time marks another stop in the pits, Kévin Estre returns to the very same position and continues the race as third in the grid.
Shortly before the final two hours of the race, the next driver switch took place: While Kévin Estre cleared the spot in the #6 for André Lotterer, Frédérick Makowiecki switched out with Michael Christensen in the Porsche 963 #5. But barely 15 minutes later, Christensen is forced to return to the pit. The reason: The power steering of the Porsche #5 experiences outages and after an initial check, the team realizes that it cannot be solved quickly. With that, the 963 is temporarily removed from the race.
In the meantime, André Lotterer is focused on achieving a spot on the podium. Though he spends quite some time behind the Cadillac in fifth position, he moves up on fourth position of the grid as the Cadillac enters the pit with a 30-minute delay to the other members of the class. The drivers of the GTE Am class also begin to battle harder: Meanwhile, Michelle Gatting has stepped up for the Iron Dames, and has been countering the attacks of a Ferrari for multiple rounds to maintain her second position. But the treacherous rollercoaster of a track and the dense grid make defense almost impossible, and she is forced to drop onto third position of the GTE Am class. On the other hand, other customer racing teams have raced their way into the top ten – Project 1 – AO, Dempsey-Proton and Proton are driving their Porsche 911 RSRs determidely forward.
In the final hour of the race, the first Safety Car phase is announced. At that moment, the Porsche 963 #6 is on third spot of the hypercar class and not much was left to cathc up to the second car – it was just a question of a few remaining rounds. It takes roughly ten minutes until the track is released once more, and immediately after, the majority of the grid enters pitlane. The only exceptions are the Ferraris, which decided to take a later stop. As a result, Lotterer returns from the pit behind the Ferrari #51 and the later stop of the competition helps him move back onto third spot, with the Cadillac #2 far behind.
In the final ten minutes, André Lotterer radios in to the pit: his petrol light is on, his fuel is unlikely to be enough to finish the race. Due to a faulty sensor, not enough fuel had been filled in during the previous stop. For the audience, the tension becomes almost unbearable – the podium is threatened. But the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team stays calm, Lotterer returns to the pit and his fuel is refilled halfway. The stop is just as long as necessary and is timed perfectly: As André Lotterer exits the pit and accelerates, the following #2 Cadillac is just coming around the turn of the start-finish straight. Finally, the Porsche 963 #6 crosses the finish line on third spot and therefore wins a spot on the podium for the first time in the 2023 WEC season.
We want to be back up with the play at the next race in Spa.
In the GTE Am class, the Iron Dames concluded the race on third spot after a grueling six-hour battle during the second race of the WEC season. Also among the top ten placements are the customer racing teams Project 1 – AO on sixth, Dempsey-Proton Racing on seventh and Proton Competition on ninth spot.
Even before the qualifying, Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Porsche Motorsport, noted, "During the race in Portugal we want to aim for our first podium spot." A goal, that the team clearly aimed for throughout the six hours without losing their compsure during the battle for better positions. The IMSA and WEC teams have learned from the challenges and data of the race in Sebring, and will continue to do so after the races in Long Beach and Portimão.